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WildEarth Guardians Files Suit to End Trapping in Lobo Country
“The State of New Mexico has repeatedly failed to safeguard lobos from trapping,” stated John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians. He added, “The majority of New Mexicans polled want to both see wolves conserved and cruel trapping abolished.”
Traps have injured or killed 14 Mexican gray wolves (in 15 separate incidents) since 2002. Two wolves died. Two had entire limbs amputated. One endured a partial foot amputation. Traps may have harmed even more wolves. Some of the dozens of illegally-dispatched lobos have simply vanished.
New Mexico allows both regulated trapping of “furbearers” during set seasons (details included below) as well as unregulated, year-round trapping of coyotes and skunks. WildEarth Guardians lawsuit alleges that both types of trapping are illegal because the State of New Mexico has not exercised “due care” to prevent harm wolves as required by the Endangered Species Act.
Wolves captured in body-gripping traps endure physiological and psychological trauma, dehydration, and exposure. Trapped wolves sustain tissue damage and other injuries that reduce their fitness and chance for continued existence. Further, adult wolves provision their pups for months after birth. Those harmed or killed by traps and snares cannot adequately feed and nurture their pups.
“Wolves kill swift-moving, wild prey after giving prolonged chase. Wolves require mobility for their very survival,” stated Horning. “They can’t survive or provision for their young if their bodies are damaged.”
“Mexican wolves need room to roam in their native habitat without the danger of indiscriminant traps and snares,” declared Horning. “New Mexico must safeguard lobos, and eliminating traps is the first step.”
The Mexican gray wolf is currently listed under the Endangered Species Act as an “experimental” population of northern gray wolves, which affords lesser protections than full listing. But the status of Mexican gray wolves is due to change in 2012. The Mexican wolf is one of more than 800 species covered in WildEarth Guardians’ species settlement agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), announced on May 10, 2011, and approved by a federal court on September 9, 2011. In accordance with the agreement, the agency must either propose full listing or determine protection is “not warranted” for Mexican gray wolves as a distinct subspecies of wolves. Listing the Mexican gray wolf separate from northern gray wolves would increase protections for and speed recovery of the wild population.
The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) is the smallest, rarest, and most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf. Once numbering in the thousands, it roamed across Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and the Republic of Mexico. Today, the Mexican wolf or lobo is one of the world’s rarest terrestrial mammals. FWS estimated that 58 Mexican wolves ranged in the recovery area in 2011.
Trapping in Lobo Country
• On June 10, 2010, WildEarth Guardians submitted formal petitions to both the U.S. Forest Service and the FWS and requested an emergency closure on trapping in the range of the Mexican wolf. The petitions were denied and ignored, respectively.
• On July 28, 2010, Governor Bill Richardson issued an Executive Order that prohibited leghold and body-crushing traps within the Mexican wolf recovery area in New Mexico to protect wolves. The order banned commercial and recreational trapping in the area for a six-month period beginning on November 1, 2010; required the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to research whether traps harm wolves; and directed the Department of Tourism to study the potential economic benefits of lobo-related ecotourism.
• On October 28, 2010, the New Mexico Game Commission unanimously adopted the Governor’s Executive Order as part of the state’s wildlife regulations. But at that hearing, Jim Lane, then-Chief of the Wildlife Management Division for the Department of Game and Fish, declared that coyote trapping was still legal because his agency had “no authority” to regulate coyotes.
• On May 17, 2011, WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club, and Animal Protection of New Mexico requested that the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the Game Commission ban traps on all public lands in New Mexico.
• In 2011, and prior to the Game Commission July hearing, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a report, “Evaluating Trapping Techniques to Reduce Potential for Injury to Mexican Wolves,” that recounts a struggling Mexican wolf recovery program:
o 37 wolves were illegally shot;
o 23 were removed from the wild by FWS;
o 15 were caught in traps (2 died, 7 sustained injuries, of which 3 had amputation surgeries);
o 12 were hit by vehicles;
o 11 were killed by FWS;
o 1 was legally shot by the public; and
o 1 died from a FWS’s trap.
• On July 21, 2011, the New Mexico Game Commission held a hearing in remotely-situated Clayton, New Mexico, on trapping that:
o Failed to even discuss conservationists’ trap-ban request, even though it had received 12,000 comments in favor of banning traps.
o Rescinded Richardson’s trapping ban in the Mexican gray wolf recovery area.
o Expanded trapping year-round on other specially designated lands, which previously enjoyed trapping prohibitions, including portions of the Wild Rivers Recreation Area of the Rio Grande, the Valle Vidal, Vermejo Ranch, and the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
o The commission also opened Wildlife Management Areas to trapping at the discretion of the Director of the Game and Fish Department.
• On July 26, 2011, WildEarth Guardians again requested that the U.S. Forest Service and the FWS ban traps in the wolf recovery area to protect wolves. The Forest Service declined to do so and the FWS failed to respond to the petition.
• On September 14, 2011, in Albuquerque, the TrapFreeNM coalition (WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club, Animal Protection of New Mexico, and Born Free USA) held a well-publicized public hearing on the issue of trapping, including the trapping of Mexican wolves. The People’s Forum’s panel was comprised of seven civic-minded members. Each had a record of public service. The panel took recorded public testimony with regards to trapping on public lands in New Mexico. Approximately 140 people attended and 40 testified (all opposed to trapping). The panel held a public comment period for 30 days: and 2,410 people responded and 90 percent were opposed to trapping on public lands in New Mexico.
• “Furbearers” are animals trapped or hunted for the commercial value of their pelts. Resident trappers pay $20 for a license to trap “furbearers” but the state requires no license for residents to trap coyotes and skunks. Non-resident trappers, however, pay $345 for a “furbearer” license. They must obtain a license to trap or hunt coyotes and skunks.
• “Furbearers” in New Mexico can be trapped or hunted during various seasons include:
o Mink, badger, ringtail, long- and short-tailed weasels, gray fox, kit fox, swift fox, red fox, and bobcat; the season starts on November 1 and ends on March 15.
o Raccoons; the season begins September 1 and ends May 15.
o Beaver, muskrat, and nutria; the season begins November 1 and ends April 30.
o Four species of skunk: Western-spotted, striped, hooded, and hog-nosed. Some of these species are common while others are not. Trapping is permitted year-round for skunks.
o Trapping is permitted year-round for coyotes.
• Pine marten, river otter, black-footed ferret, and coatimundi are considered “furbearers” in New Mexico, but their take is prohibited.
• Other species such as cougars and bears are also not legally trapped in New Mexico, but have been, according to an undercover operation by Born Free USA. http://www.bornfreeusa.org/press.php?p=2765&more=1
• Numerous pets have been trapped in New Mexico. http://nmsierraclub.org/trapping-personal-stories-in-new-mexico